note: This article first appeared in May 2015. It was my first major ham radio and power project. I loved it and learned a lot. Later I wanted a smaller box for my radio and emergency power. That project turned into “Yaesu FT-8900R Go Box & Power Box Together”. But, I am resurrecting this series or articles due to the potential value in showing you what can be done…yeah, giving you ideas for your own project. Enjoy!
So I was talking to my fellow Emergency Preparedness Specialist here locally and we were discussing responding to emergencies and disasters for our 13 church congregations that we are responsible for. Clearly “communications” was our number one priority; we simply had to be able to establish communications among the leadership over our three-county area in the event of emergencies and disasters. And we needed to be able to do it with or without the “grid” being in-place and functional.
So our Plan C is Ham radio communications using 2m and 70cm for local “tactical” channels and 10m band (28.000 – 28.300) for HF long distance communications. And yes, we have integrated our home-grown repeater into the plan as well. <Click here to read more about the cross-band repeater> But my partner was telling me about his “Ham Go-Box” and how easy it was for him to set-up in the field.
Well, I have my radios stored in hard cases <click here to read more> to protect them against weather and transportation issues. But it was kind of a pain to set one up in the field in a hurry. So I decided to put together my “Ham-In-The-Box” for rapid field deployment.
And as you already know by now, if you are a regular visitor to AHTrimble.com, I am very systematic about my gear, equipment and such. So the first item of business was to define the “mission” for my new project. So here goes –
To be able to rapidly field deploy a Ham radio, for which I am licensed to use, in the event of any emergency while maintaining a secure and protective storage environment.
Here are the Requirements & Restrictions:
- Radio had to cover the 2m, 70cm and 10m (28.000 – 28.300) bands.
- Radio had to be easily computer programmable.
- Radio had to be field programmable.
- Radio had to be high-quality and reliable.
- Radio should be able to scan and monitor multiple frequencies simultaneously.
- The overall combined unit had to be portable enough to be one-handed carry.
- The storage box had to be secure and protective enough to keep the radio free from damage and environmental harm (within reason) while the radio was in storage or being transported.
- The storage box had to be easily converted into a deployed radio unit with little effort while maintaining reasonable protection from the elements.
- The unit had to integrate the capability to operate on both 110vAC shore power and 12vDC battery power.
- Unit had to integrate a “battery booster” to lengthen operating time.
- Unit should be auto-switching between shore power and battery power to provide an uninterrupted operating environment.
- The unit had to maintain box integrity and have no “through-the-wall” connections.
- Unit didn’t have to be power integrated. In other words, the power (shore or battery) would be provided outside of the unit.
~ COMPONENTS ~
So the first thing I had to do was identify which radio out of my stash that I would use. That was an easy choice; my Yaesu FT-8900R quad-band met all the radio requirements. <Click here to read more about the Yaesu FT-8900R radio> The Yaesu FT-8900R is an amazing radio! It is probably the ideal single radio for a “prepper.”
The FT-8900R is a ruggedly-built, high quality Quad Band FM transceiver providing 50 Watts of power output on the 29/50/144 MHz Amateur bands, and 35 Watts on the 430 MHz band. It includes leading-edge features like cross-band repeat, dual receive, VHF-UHF Full Duplex capability, and over 800 memory channels.
Box (container) –
I struggled with this one. My first inclination was an iSeries (Pelican style) box due to durability. But the cost would be very high $300+ and I wasn’t ready to plunk that kind of money down for such a special purpose project. So then I was looking at the various options of military surplus metal ammo cans. I really couldn’t find one that was the right size; and the additional weight of the can was considerable and jeopardized my “portability” requirement.
Then I caught myself in Home Depot doing some tool “window shopping” one evening and came across this line of Rigid toolboxes that are really rugged. They are made out of impact-resin hard-plastic similar to hard-cases mentioned in my series of iSeries radio storage box articles. <Click here to read more> so I really looked at the Rigid toolboxes as a serious option. So for a mid-$30 investment I took a chance. Perfect! It looks as if the box was the right choice for this project.
Rigid Professional Tool Storage System toolboxes are made out of a durable impact resin hard-plastic. I chose the ’22” Tool Box’ it has a lid seal and no “through-the-box” openings to let in dirt, water, dust, etc. It secures really tightly and has a great quality “feel” to it.
Power Supply –
This is the world’s most compact switching power supply that also has a meter and adjustable voltage control. Just 5″ W x 2 ½” H x 6″ D, it weighs only 3 lbs. — it is the perfect pack-n-go power supply for field day, DXpeditions, camping, hiking or to pack for your next business trip or vacation to some faraway place. MFJ-4230MV gives you 25 Amps continuously or 30 Amps surge at 13.8 VDC. The voltage is front-panel adjustable from 4 to 16 Volts. MFJ-4230MV also has a selectable input voltage: choose from 120 or 240 VAC at 47 – 63 Hz.
A simple front-panel push-button switch lets you choose either Ammeter or Voltmeter — allows you to select Amps or Volts as you wish to read them. MFJ-4230MV has an excellent 75% efficiency and extra low ripple and noise, < 100 mV. Awhisper-quiet fan cools by convection and forced air cooling. Normal air-flow around the power supply is continuous and a heat sensor increases the fan speed when the temperature rises above 70 degrees Celsius. DC output is five way binding posts on the back of the MFJ-4230MV so you can power your dedicated HF, VHF or UHF transceiver with ease.
Super PWRgate PG40S by West Mountain Radio is a 12 volt backup power auto-switching system rated at 40 amperes continuous from either a power supply or a battery. The Super PWRgate also has a built-in four-stage battery charger with selectable current rates of 1, 4, 7 or 10 amperes. Connected equipment will instantly switch to battery during a power blackout or power supply failure. Uses two 80 ampere Schottky diodes as an OR-Gate to isolate the battery and power supply from each other. Forward voltage drop of less than 0.3 volts at 20 A. Optimized for use with GELLED & AGM type batteries, but will keep flooded lead acid and marine type batteries near full charge as well. Measures 1.64″ x 3.9″ x 5″ and uses Anderson PowerPole connectors.
Battery Booster –
MFJ Enterprises Inc. MFJ-4416B BATTERY VOLTAGE BOOSTER. The MFJ-4416 Super Battery Booster eliminates low voltage problems by boosting input voltages as low as 9 volts up to the desired 13.8 volts. And it does so at up to 25 amps peak with a typical efficiency of close to 90%. It is compact at just 7 3/4W x 4H x 2 1/8D” and lightweight at 1.3 lbs. And the MFJ-4416 Super Battery Booster is designed to be rugged, reliable, and easy to use.
MFJ-4416 includes Anderson PowerPole connectors and high-current 5-way binding posts for both the DC input and regulated output. An internal 30-amp input fuse protects the unit from excess output current demands. There are also selectable limits on the minimum voltage that the unit will accept: 9-volts, 10-volts (default), and 11-volts. This protects you from over-discharging a battery and possibly damaging it. MFJ-4416 also includes output over-voltage crow-bar protection should regulation be lost.
Two additional features offer ways to increase efficiency even more! First, there is an RF sampling port which can be connected to your transceiver`s transmission line with an MFJ-7733 UHF-T connector. When this feature is enabled, the MFJ-4416 is bypassed unless RF is sensed so no regulator switching efficiency penalties are incurred during receive. The second efficiency enhancement feature is a user-adjustable output voltage control which lets you set the output voltage anywhere between 12- and 13.8-volts. When setting the output at 12-volts, input voltages greater than 12V will pass through, but the efficiency of the regulator is higher. And lower input voltage means your transceiver will run cooler!
Typically this unit saves over 30 watts in heat dissipation during transmit, and even 3-4 watts during receive. So it can actually be good to let the voltage sag to 12 volts, then let the MFJ-4116 protect you from lower voltages.
USB Charging Ports –
Powerwerx Panel Mount Dual USB Socket 3 Amp Device Charger. Dual USB device charger features 2 USB ports with high charging output. Compatible with Apple and Android products and more. Fits standard 1-1/8″ diameter hole. Maximum output current of 2.1A per single USB device. 3A maximum total output.
Cigarette Outlet –
Powerwerx Panel Mount Cigarette Lighter Socket Automotive Marine Grade. Panel mount receptacle is made out of marine grade materials and can be panel mounted in two ways. By utilizing the flange or the slim method by utilizing the large locking nut. The receptacle features a watertight sealing cap, and is easy to install.
Cooling Fan –
After reading about the potential of heat being generated by the auto-switch I decided I wanted a cooling fan option (switch controlled) to be able to drive air directly at the PWRgate unit’s heat sink.
Computer CPU Cooling Fan; Rated Voltage : DC 12V;Fan Speed : 3000+/-10%RPM Air Flow : 32CFM;Noise : 23.85dBA;Bearing Type : Hydro Bearing Size : 70 x 70 x 15mm / 2.8″ x 2.8″ x 0.6″(L*W*H)
~ The Challenges ~
The Biggest Challenge –
More than all the other challenges combined was the fact that I really have little to no experience assembling, wiring, and configuring Ham radios. Yes, I built the cross-band repeater than I mentioned earlier, and it works great, but this seemed like a far more complex project. And I was worried I wasn’t schooled enough to succeed. So I reached out to a few more experienced Hams (Elmers) and asked for their feedback on my configuration and wiring design. No of them felt I was going to burn the house down or fry my equipment.
First Challenge –
The first challenge I ran into was how to mount the internal components without adding a bunch of weight to the box. I ran down the list of various construction materials and it became obvious that aluminum was the only logical choice for this project. So off to Lowes I went. I quickly figured out their stock aluminum pieces would work out just fine so I purchased a variety of pieces such as angle iron and flat stock. I simply cut and drilled as required.
Second Challenge –
I really didn’t want any holes through the box itself. I wanted to maintain the integrity of the box and be able to reuse it later if the radio idea didn’t work out. So I made the decision to not actually connect the construction materials to or through the box itself. All the mounting pieces would simply be a tight fit; tight enough to hold the entire support structure in-place with no actual mounting to the box itself.
Third Challenge –
How to get everything into the box and mounted in such a way that I could access each component piece for adjustment, replacement, or repair. There was no easy answer to this challenge so I just started laying out the pieces in the box till they started to “fit” into place logically. It was like playing 3D chess.
Fourth Challenge –
I had to figure out how to connect the construction materials together to allow some changes and modifications as I went. And to ensure that I could relatively easily access each component should the need to arise. I decided that the base/first level of the insides would be riveted together to ensure stability. After that the upper levels would be bolted using regular hex-nuts or if, greater ease of access was needed I would use wing-nuts. To hold the front panel on and yet make it easily accessible I decided to use JB Weld to hold the bolts in place. The bolts then pass through the front panel and are held into place by wing-nuts. All nuts backed with external tooth lock washers. All bolts are #8 to make it easier by using a single sized bolt, nut, and washer.
Fifth Challenge –
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